Sunday, March 20, 2016

Pastor of None(s)

Photo by CGP Grey via Wikimedia Commons

It's been four months since my last post about being a failed church planter, and I'm happy to report that whatever kinds of grief and guilt I had about that messy experience (mostly self-imposed) have passed. The post itself struck a chord with some folks and garnered some really great discussion in various social media, mostly amongst my friends and ministerial colleagues.

A few months later I made the following comment on Facebook:
I lost my religion on accident and not for want of trying. And I've come to the conclusion that it's impossible to be spiritual without also being religious.
The responses to this terse remark were interesting and widely varied. I have a diverse set of friends, in terms of religious beliefs and traditions. A secular Jewish friend and a few former Christians said basically, "Welcome to the club!"

But one of the more troubling pieces of feedback I received was from some well-intentioned, kind-hearted and lovely people from my home congregation that suggested that I just needed to "suck it up and go to church" (my paraphrase). But I can't swallow that pill.

For one thing, my home congregation is a relatively healthy and happy congregation. It's not perfect, of course there are problems, unresolved tensions & conflicts, yada yada. But it's a very healthy congregation. So hearing advice to "just go to church" from people in that relatively safe church context didn't cut it for me. (No hard feelings.)

And I was playing a bit with the phrase "I lost my religion." It wasn't meant in the sense of my moving away from or denying the Christian theological beliefs I've had (and actively cultivated & tended) my whole life. It was more of a public confession that after trying unsuccessfully for a handful of years to find a faith community (a "church") in which to belong and to worship that God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, I was calling it good for now. We've not attended a church with any regularity for almost two years and I'd come to the point of making peace with that, while simultaneously acknowledging that my spiritual life has become rather thin. "It takes a village," and I don't have one right now but I'm not convinced that's forever.

So as I was sitting at home this Palm Sunday morning (not going to church), I found this interesting opening article in a new series from The Atlantic, "Choosing My Religion" (REM fan here, so I LOL'd). And this passage struck me:
People who don’t identify with a particular religious group aren’t necessarily non-religious or non-believers. Many embrace some sort of ritual practice, and relatively few describe themselves as atheists or agnostics. It’s true that a growing number of young people are drifting away from religious institutions, but it’s also true that a significant portion of young Americans still attend worship services, pray, and believe in God.
So I guess I'm only "non-religious" in the sense that I've drifted away from the institutional trappings of church. "Religion" in the bureaucratic sense. Unfortunately, it's also meant that in my current context (small town Iowa), I can't stomach what passes for church here.

And as the article goes on to suggest, there are a sizeable group of people who go through a "drifting away" period but eventually come back into the fold. That's probably me.

Jesus is still on the search for me. He'll find this lost sheep and bring him home.

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